Ego causes us so much suffering and exhaustion. And yet, it is nothing more than a repeated pattern of circular habitual thinking, which we use to fixate our beliefs, perceptions and image of ourselves.
Even more simply described, ego is resistance… whenever we feel resistance – that’s ego in action. Whenever we feel suffering – that’s because of egoic resistance.
Ego believes that it is separate from the rest of the world, and its entire function is to try and seek union and wholeness, somewhere outside of itself. Its relentless and obsessive search for wholeness can be seen in everything we say and do. Ego exists only inside our mind, and yet, it manifests outwardly, as a controlling, obsessive and relentless seeker of wholeness.
It is hard to become aware of ego and see it with clarity, because it usually completely dominates our consciousness. It bellows orders inside our head, driving our every move, choreographing our every thought, emotion, word and action, so our entire lives are driven by its perpetual search for wholeness.
Because ego believes that it is separate, it operates from a place of lack and constant dissatisfaction. It grasps and clings to whatever makes it feel more whole, loved, fulfilled and permanent… and it rejects and pushes away whatever makes it feel negative, insignificant, alone and separate.
Ego is the mechanism behind all of our resistance, and therefore all of our suffering.
Ego also operates from a place of fear – fear of separation, and ultimately, fear of its own demise – perhaps because it knows that it is not real – because ego is not who we really are – it’s just a bunch of stories circling nonstop around our heads, which we could decide to consciously disregard at any moment.
Ego knows this, and will do anything to keep itself alive, and thus perpetuate our suffering. In fact, ego’s entire existence depends on suffering and a perceived lack of wholeness. So it’s survival depends on never finding the wholeness we seek. Ego therefore exists in a catch-22 situation – it needs suffering and separation to survive, but this suffering drives it to seek wholeness, but if it finds wholeness it will no longer exist, and that is even more terrifying than its own suffering.
To put it more simply, ego needs resistance and suffering, in order to keep itself alive… and staying alive is ego’s top priority… so constant and endless suffering is inevitable.
Ego dominates our behaviour and the way in which we perceive life and interact with the world. Because ego comes from a place of lack, dissatisfaction, seeking and fear, it colours our entire lives with these qualities, resulting in a huge amount of seeking, suffering and overall dissatisfaction with ourselves and our lives.
But we know that ego is not a tangible thing, and the thought patterns that create it can be changed at any moment.
So we can ask ourselves, what beliefs and habitual thought patterns are we using to create our own ego? Are they even true, and how do they limit us, damage us and keep us feeling dissatisfied, lacking, fearful and unfulfilled? Why do we believe in these incessant and repeating thoughts, especially if they are completely intangible, exist only inside our head, and cause us to suffer?
There are countless examples of how our behaviour and experiences are directly influenced by our ego and its beliefs.
For example, we might believe that we will only be worthy when we have a lot of money and status, so we become a super-ambitious and competitive workaholic, striving for that millionaire luxury lifestyle, in an effort to become ‘worthy’.
Or we might believe that we are someone who always fails, who doesn’t deserve anything, who never gets any good opportunities or chances in life, so we cripple and castrate all of our weak efforts to achieve anything, engaging in a constant cycle of self-sabotage. It’s impossible for us to thrive, because deep down, we believe we are not worthy enough.
We might believe that we are boring, unattractive and overweight, so we unconsciously avoid finding a romantic partner, or we stay in a toxic or abusive relationship – believing we can’t get anything better.
Or we might believe that relationships always end, and people always hurt us, so we never fully open ourselves up to authentic intimacy, preferring instead to dabble in shallow interactions, always keeping our defenses up, to avoid being hurt and heartbroken.
We might believe that we need certain things to happen in our lives, before we can feel happy and fulfilled. ‘Everything in my life will work out when… I lose weight, I meet my soulmate, I get a better job, I move house, I achieve spiritual awakening…’ So we unconsciously sabotage our own happiness until our criteria have been met (only to feel crushing disappointment when those criteria don’t bring us the fulfilment we expected).
Or, we might believe we are really bad at certain things, so we limit our exposure to them, cutting us off from potential sources of joy. For example, we shut ourselves off from joining that sports team, learning that musical instrument, attending that art club, taking those language classes, or fixing that computer, because we believe we have no talent or skill in those areas.
Ego constantly tries to mould and shape the world around its own self-image. It is always on the alert, looking for external evidence that supports its image, ‘I knew he would be unfaithful… I knew I would fail… I knew it wouldn’t work out… I never get what I want…’
And it rejects any evidence that shows its self-image to be false, ‘Well that may be true for her, but it won’t work for me… I know I won’t be able to do it… I know she is lying, because people always lie… I don’t believe it’s safe, it can’t be… He’s only being kind because he wants something from me… I’ll never be able to achieve that…’
When we realise that ego comes from a place of lack, dissatisfaction, seeking and fear, we can question these qualities each time they arise, and question the egoic beliefs which underpin our resistance, suffering and seeking.
Having an awareness of our ego and how it operates is the first step towards becoming dis-identified with it. When we are no longer identified with our ego, we can simply allow it to be there, without suffering as a result of its nonstop stories and seeking.
And in allowing it to simply be there, we notice that it naturally becomes quieter, like a screaming toddler who suddenly realises that he no longer has an audience.